Birmingham Undergraduate Internship Programme: 5 weeks on and still learning

By Samuel, Information Security and Data Management Administrator

So it was the first day. I’d gotten up 2 hours early. I’d eaten my trusty breakfast of Aldi knock-off Fruit and Fibre. I’d spent a while trying to convince myself that I was a capable professional who knows what business buzz-words like synergy actually mean. And then I’d set off for the striking Biosciences building, where my internship would be based.

In the next two hours, I’d met both of my managers (who were absolutely lovely and very encouraging), had my tasks laid out for me, and was shown to my desk. My overall task is to research all the different information that the College of Life and Environmental Sciences deals with is handled, and look at what can be done to make this more secure. I’ll also be researching the different resources the College and University has for data management, comparing University policies to external policies, coming up with some guidance for researchers, and reviewing the Information Security training recently created by some intelligent IT people. My attitude was flicking between exhilaration (Wow, I can’t believe they trust me to do all this!) and panic (Whoa, I can’t believe they expect me to do all this!). And so with mixed feelings I sat down and started reading through the friendly pile of policies I’d been given.

Samuel Parr

A piece of advice I’d give to anyone in a similar position is not to get overwhelmed. In the beginning it can feel a bit like you’ve been chucked in the deep end, and on top of that the water’s freezing and there’s a suspiciously shark shaped object floating towards you. However, being challenged has been a fantastic experience. I feel like I’m bolstering my professional skills at a rate I’ve never achieved before. My managers have given me advice on ways to do things that I have never thought of, and I’ve learnt lessons that I can build an entire career off. In that first couple of weeks, I found that what works for me is to cultivate two mind-sets: one of undaunted enthusiasm and one of short term focus, where all that matters is that you do as much as you can today, without worrying too much about the bigger picture. This isn’t an attitude I’ve continued in the long run (as it has the downside of short-sightedness), but it allowed me to build a solid foundation of knowledge in the first fortnight, without suffering too much from the de-motivating worry that can come when you don’t feel you can achieve a task.

Skip forward five weeks and I’m still learning a lot. And still, at times, struggling. But I’ve found that there are so many people out there ready to help you. My managers are always sources of helpful advice, and I’ve found that regular, honest communication with them is what enables me to stay on track and focus my skills. I’ve also conducted around 30 interviews so far as part of my research, and everyone has been helpful, engaged and a pleasure to talk to. I’ve even learnt some obscure facts about the University (one handsome professional informed me that the University actually has a mile of mineshaft underneath it). And each time I finish talking to someone, I come out with a better idea of the College, what information it deals with, and how this is handled.

I think one of the reasons I’ve found my internship to be such a learning experience is that I’m treating it as a microcosm of my future working life. The practices I cultivate here will be habits I might carry forward for years, so it’s important to get them right. For instance, I try and always have a decent lunch break- it improves my productivity and enables me to come back to work refreshed. Adopting this at the beginning was harder than I thought; generally I’d get lost in my work and realise at 3 o clock that I was hungry and tired. As time’s gone on though, adopting this habit has helped me boost my productivity substantially.  Learning how I work in an office environment is also something that will affect how I work in the future. This is my first time working in an office environment (unless we count two weeks of year 11 work experience at my Dad’s work…). The office culture is something I’ve gotten used to, and it’s been different in some ways to what I expected (there are no chats around water coolers or people called ‘Johnson’).

Overall my internship has been challenging but exciting. I love that there’s always something to get my teeth into, and I think that the right attitude can turn a daunting task into an engaging challenge. I’ve also come to appreciate all the hard work everyone at the University does to make the organisation run, and it’s been interesting (and slightly surreal) to be sitting on the other side of a student office (where I have begun to feel guilty for all the problems I’ve dumped on the English student staff members over the years). There’s so much I haven’t had time to go over in this blog, from having lunch with the Director of Operations (a great chap by all accounts) to learning so many diverse staff member’s roles and work history, but suffice to say it’s all been a fascinating experience. Here’s hoping that the next five weeks will be just as good!

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About careersbham

Student Engagement Officer for Careers Network University of Birmingham

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